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Live Not by Lies

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Rod Dreher has a fascinating take on the current political landscape in America. The central claim of his book is that soft totalitarianism is coming quickly in America and that Christians must be prepared to stand up under difficulties. Today’s soft totalitarianism is not the same as 20th-century hard totalitarianism, but it has parallels in terms of controlling ideology and making life difficult for those who don’t agree with the culturally accepted picture of reality. While it might not come through governments, it could very well be controlled by big corporations who push woke ideology and control the spread of information. He cites cancel culture madness, the “surveillance capitalism” of big tech invading private life, the therapeutic culture, and woke ideology as examples of this rising tyranny.

Dreher notes many parallels between our current society and life leading up to the 1917 Bolshevik revolution. In Russia, Marxism first spread among the intellectuals and artists, capturing the universities and enticing young students in privileged classes who became sick of their parent’s failures and wanted to “change the system.” Civil unrest, economic instability, and desire for change created conditions ripe for revolution. Dreher draws out the many parallels between then and now--widespread isolation; loss of faith in institutions like religion, media, and government; propaganda and powerful ideology (as seen in SJW ideology/progressivism); and hatred of free speech.

There were many aspects of this book that I found very helpful, like the repeated explanation of the difference between totalitarianism and authoritarianism. Authoritarianism is complete political control by the state. Totalitarianism is complete ideological control of institutions. As the author puts it, they want nothing less than “defining and controlling reality.”
Another principle I found fascinating was his reference to Malosz’s idea of ketman, which is maintaining an outward appearance of agreement will inwardly disagreeing. This happened under communism, and Dreher contends that it happens today with many conservative Christians under wokeness who affirm lies for the sake of their jobs or education. I see this happen all the time in college. Students write something that agrees with the professor just to get the grade. This silence and disingenuous conformity is to the detriment of our own souls.
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I read Live Not by Lies at the beginning of 2021, with the presidential election still under a cloud. The book was easy to read because as a liberal Democrat I have already been thinking on these lines for the last four year. Nevertheless the book is an excellent summary and would be a good suggestion for Christians and others who are on the fence about events.

I give the book 4 stars, not 5, simply because it is a dark difficult subject. In spite of all the testimonials of saints to the joy of suffering, I found myself praying in the Garden of Gethsemane with Christ that this cup pass from the American church, or with Ebenezer Scrooge entreating the ghost of Christmas-yet-to-come whether these things MAY yet be changed!

Certainly Mr. Dreher has me wanting to immerse myself in Solzhenitsyn's books and to identify with those whose recent history is being ignored and forgotten. I feel some shame at how I was living during the harrowing persecution of the 70's & 80's these heroes faced so bravely.

The suggestions were good but not enough. How can we start a movement? Live Not by Lies is exactly what is needed most in the present crisis. This is a book to reread along with Pilgrims Progress as a call to true discipleship in an age of weakness and confusion.
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1.  For young Christians who aren't familiar with the role of Christian believers in Cold War anticommunist resistance in Central/Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, the latter half of the book is a very good place to begin.  If you were an intellectual-type evangelical circa 1988-1991, some of it may be more of a review. If you were setting up a year-long study on Christian political resistance in the Cold War, it might be a good, popular-level kick-off book -- or a good book with which to conclude.

2. The first half of the book is a wide-ranging jeremiad about Marxism/Leninism/Gramsci, radicalization and terror in late imperial Russia, SJWs/wokeness, the "pink police state," Zuboff's "surveillance capitalism," and Kai Strittmater's work on China, big data, AI, and social credit.  It felt like a hodge-podge, and one that makes it very easy for outside readers to read into the analysis what they will.  

3.  Dreher clearly states that the culture war is over, and evangelicals lost.  Also, at one point, he asserts that American Christians need to be thinking about the "mechanics" of how to do underground work.  Personally, I completely agree with the former, but I think the latter is overstated (but I'll take it as a point of further debate).
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Dreher at his best—a natural evolution of the Benedict Option argument. At once both darker and more hopeful than its predecessor, "Live Not By Lies" is a must-read.
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Rod Dreher’s new book, Live Not By Lies: A Manual for Christian Dissidents, includes many stories of Christians who survived life under the communist regime of the Soviet Union. One of those families, the Bendas, who lived in the Czech half of the communist Czechoslovakia, modeled Christian resistance through family unity, radical hospitality, and by placing a higher value on faithfulness than their own political freedom. 

One of the things the mother, Kamila Benda, did, in addition to her role of teaching at a nearby university, was to read to her six children several hours every day (yes, several hours!). One of their favorite books was J. R. R. Tolkien’s trilogy, The Lord of the Rings, because, as she recounts, “we knew Mordor was real. We felt that their story”—that of the hobbits and others resisting the evil Sauron—“was our story too. Tolkien’s dragons are more realistic than a lot of things we have in this world.”

For those who are not familiar with the storyline of the Lord of the Rings, Mordor is the land of Sauron, the embodiment of evil trying to take over and dominate Middle Earth. Tolkien drew from the evil and destruction of communism and fascism to imagine a force that sought to bring everything into subjection to its control. In the novels, therefore, Mordor represents the enemy of dignity, freedom, and life. 

Live Not By Lies is a warning to the West and a call to Christians. It warns that many of the social and political trends in the West that increasingly curtail freedoms also happened under communism in the Soviet Union. Dreher interviews many older Eastern Europeans who are genuinely alarmed at the changes in America and Europe. More importantly, the book is a call to Christians to understand that individualism, big-box churches, and “my house is my castle” lifestyle will not sustain believers under totalitarianism.

We have much to learn from our brothers and sisters who suffered under genuine oppression and persecution in the Soviet system, something I began to learn more than twenty years ago during my first teaching trip to Ukraine. To survive the persecution coming from increased surveillance, the LGBT+ lobby, intolerance, and secularism, we will have to change our way of life. We will need communities of Christians to share life together, strengthen one another, and perpetuate our faith to the next generation, as we stand in opposition to the ideology forced upon us.

The church can and will survive under any amount of pressure, but only if believers faithfully teach and live courageously. Live Not By Lies may very well become the manual for Christian dissidents within the next decade.
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Live Not by Lies by Rod Dreher is divided in two parts. On the firs part, Rod takes a closer look to the totalitarian regime of Communism through History and story-telling and compares it to the near-past and present of Western Civilization to press on the fact that we live on a soft totalitarian regime, not on in Europe but it is already present America. The second part of the book is dedicated to provide wisdom and instruction on how Christians can be ready to go through this storm.

This is a must read for any discerning Christian, not only to have his eyes and mind opened to this new reality but to know how to act and in the context of the nuclear family.

Thanks to Netgalley for providing a free digital copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.
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Dreher's new book is a wonderful exploration of and a testament to the dissent against totalitarianism. By using the experience of dissidents throughout Russia and Eastern Europe before the fall of Communism in Russia, he compares the hard totalitarianism of Communist Europe and the soft totalitarianism starting to form in the United States.

It's powerful and prophetic. It also gives is ideas for how to live and ultimately the hope that by the action and witness of Christian and secular dissidents, totalitarianism, whether hard or soft, can be overcome.
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Wow, this was fantastic! A highly recommended read.

This book is divided into three parts. First Dreher discusses how totalitarianism is infiltrating the West (in a slightly different format described as "soft totalitarianism"). The book focuses on America specifically but I think it can be more broadly applied to other Western countries as similar "wokeness as religion" trends are popping up. Second, he explores stories from christian survivors of totalitarianism in Eastern Europe and gives insight into how they survived their ordeals. Lastly, Dreher teaches his readers to apply the lessons from previous generations to our own lives and explores how we may begin combating (or merely surviving) infringements on religion and our ability to dissent.

The timing of this book couldn't be more perfect. What a few months ago may have appeared as far-fetched is becoming increasingly realistic in America. We as a "Christian" nation have much to learn from those who came before us and survived brutal totalitarian regimes, particularly as our country's threats to religious liberty expand and our ability to speak our minds appears to be dwindling rapidly. 

I love that Dreher focused on how as Christians our "happiness" is not the ultimate goal in life and suffering often comes as the price to pay for being a follower of Jesus Christ. I think modern western churches often brush suffering under the rug or say it can be easily overcome through faith. 

We will face different challenges than previous generations in part due to the rise of social media and surveillance technology, but the end goal will be the same. I would highly recommend this book to Christians and non-religious people alike as it gives great insight into what could be coming for us if we wilfully blind ourselves to what is currently unfolding in the name of "progress".

Very interesting read and I feel like I have so much I need to learn about communism and its infiltration of Eastern Europe. Now I will proceed to pass this book out like candy!

I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
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Drehere makes the choice that unfortunately far too few Christian conservatives make, and goes beyond his perceptions of politics to listen to Christians who've actually experienced persecution (in China, in Soviet Bloc countries), getting their perspective on America's current situation. By doing that, asking them what it looks like when totalitarianism starts, and what it takes for Christians to band together and provide better solutions, Dreher gives a mature and objective view of what Christians should be concerned about and how to prepare themselves.
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This is a dense, complex exploration of the rise of totalitarianism. Dreher takes a hard look at the elements that allowed for the rise of Stalin. He points out cultural differences in modern America that change our response to various warning signs. Interesting though it feels like the intended audience is fairly Catholic leaning.
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"The book to read is not the one that thinks for you but the one which makes you think."  So writes Harper Lee.  

Dreher's latest work doesn't seek to think for you.  It will stimulate thought; captivate; challenge minds; trigger plenty of reflection, pause, and consideration of his argumentation.  This is a book to wrestle with the argumentation, and question our current conviction and practice.  In brief, it will make you think.  In fact, this is possibly the most stimulating book I have read all year; perhaps even in a long time.  I do believe this is a book to read - a few times - and probably even then, again.  Why?  Because it makes the reader think!  Wrestle with it.  Ask questions.  Discuss it.  Think. Engage.

Reading this when it was first released as a preview on NetGalley, you would have been forgiven for thinking that Dreher had worked long hours over the few previous days to it's availability to type this up: that's how extremely relavant and timely the content of this book is.  

The first section of the book is an outline - and orientation - for readers of the current situation in which we - primarily in the West - find ourselves.  A literary 'You Are Here' on Dreher's timely written map of 21st Century Western society.  Dreher here points out that in the West we are facing a 'soft totalitarianism', not the 'hard totalitarianism' of the gulag for example, yet a totalitarianism all the same.  Certainly reading this section it is hard to deny that if we are not completely where Dreher locates us, we are witnessing the dawn of the new era.

Having orientated readers, the second section of the book is certainly more 'practical' and personally for this reader more stimulating and the section with which I wanted to really interact with.  Dreher 'looks East' and draws much help, wisdom, guidance, and models for surviving the soft totalitarianism from those of the former 'Soviet Bloc' countries and those who resisted totalitarianism such as Father Kolakovic (to whom the book is dedicated and for which I am thankful to Dreher for introducing me to) and Vaclav Benda amongst others.  In fact the book is a testimoney to our brothers and sisters who endured much hardship and suffering for Christ in the former Soviet Bloc countries.

Each chapter has a little 'See, Judge, Act' section, taking its model from Kolakovic and in so far as it can Dreher seeks to offer practical applications and helps as to what this will look like for readers.  I am sure that readers will find this helpful in helping to think through Dreher's propositions. 

Dreher is Eastern Orthodox and so there will be elements of the book that those from other traditions may disagree with.  Personally, he is perhaps a little pessimistic about the future of the Church in the West.  That said, there is a lot to profit from and a lot to grapple with and those from various traditions will agree with so much of the content.

I would encourage folk to get a copy and begin thinking through the content of the book.  Not in abstract theoretical ways, but in honest, humble, genuine engagement of how we may seek to apply some of these practices and principles.  

To paraphrase Harper Lee, "The book to read is ... the one which makes you think."  But we cannot leave off at thinking.  Thinking ought to lead to discussion and wrestling with the ideas; and that to practicing and implementing in ways that we can.  

NB: I received a free review copy from the publisher via NetGalley in return for an honest review.  I was not obliged to write a positive review.
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<i> “In our time, the emerging totalitarianism is softer, smarter, and more sophisticated—but is no less totalitarian for it... it is built on the oldest lie of all, the one the serpent whispered in the Garden, the father of every other lie: ‘Ye shall be as gods.’” </i> 
The lies referenced by the title stem from this idea. There is a narrative in our culture that is redefining reality and selling a freedom and happiness that sounds and feels good, but is playing to our deepest desire as fallen human beings- to be God. To be “free” of any obligation or thing that stands in the way of our comfort and happiness. And the very thing they claim to be "freedom" is actually a prison. Read this book and consider the implications of what can be observed about our culture and politics right now and how it affects our faith as Christians. 
"Live Not By Lies" could be classified as alarmist, yet the author makes some very interesting and important points about what is happening in our country today and what the consequences could be. Like anything we read- we need to think for ourselves, think critically, and seek truth; so while I wouldn’t accept all of Dreher’s thoughts as facts, I find many of his observations super important to think about and useful to recognize dangerous things in our government and our culture- especially as Christians. I’ll share some of them here, conclude with my main criticisms, and then share some of the multitude of quotes from the book that are particularly interesting. 
Dreher spent time interviewing Americans who previously lived under communist rule and discussed how a lot of what is happening in American politics and culture today is reminiscent of what they experienced leading up to the Communist/totalitarian takeover of their respective countries. In summary: identity politics, isolation, the reinventing of language, the demonizing of dissenters from the cultural narrative, therapeutic morality, the policing of free speech, the dismantling of the family, and surveillance technology.  
He writes: <i> “Elites and elite institutions are abandoning old-fashioned liberalism, based in defending the rights of the individual, and replacing it with a progressive creed that regards justice in terms of groups. It encourages people to identify with groups—ethnic, sexual, and otherwise—and to think of Good and Evil as a matter of power dynamics among the groups... [they] seek to rewrite history and reinvent language to reflect their ideals of social justice. Further, these utopian progressives are constantly changing the standards of thought, speech, and behavior.” </i> 
Identity politics are really being pushed right now. We, as humans, already have the tendency to group things and people because that’s how our brains process and try to understand. Take any psychology class and you will run into this (in-group/ out-group etc) where people tend to identify closer with others who are like themselves in some way and once they find their group identity they tend to view others outside their group in a more negative way. Our culture right now is forcing people to categorize large groups of people and are then putting labels on them: minorities= good; white men= bad; LGBTQ= good; Christians= bad; anyone who votes for Trump= bad; everyone who does not vote for Trump= good. No exceptions. There is a lot of danger when we judge people by their “group” instead of as individuals. We quickly lose our humanity.
<i> “Loyalty to the group or the tribe is at the core of leftist identity politics... This is at the root of “cancel culture,” in which transgressors, however minor their infractions, find themselves cast into outer darkness" </i> 
This polarization of those who accept the ideology and those who dissent is more alarming when paired with the knowledge of where our technology is today. Dreher brings up China’s social credit system. We recently went to China and heard about it. Using their surveillance tech, they award citizens social merits or demerits based on behavior; these credits then dictate what kinds of jobs they have, the money they make, and the travel they are allowed to do. I doubt America will get to that level, but: <i> “What is to stop private entities that control access to money and markets from redlining individuals, churches, and other organizations they deem to be bad social actors and denying access to commerce? China shows that it can be done, and how to do it... It is not at all difficult to imagine that banks, retailers, and service providers that have access to the kind of consumer data extracted by surveillance capitalists would decide to punish individuals affiliated with political, religious, or cultural groups those firms deem to be antisocial.” </i> This was particularly jarring to me- I'm one who had said, I don’t care if companies or the government collect data because I’m not doing anything wrong. But I hadn’t thought about the implications of being denied access to things because I disagree with the ideology of the mob. Hopefully we never become a cashless society.  
The reinvention of language is also huge. Obviously, there are plenty of words that are now rightly labeled offensive that were acceptable in the past. But I agree with Dreher that right now there is a severe policing of language and redefining of words that is really just laying the foundation for control. It is another way to control people’s thinking and creates easily identified “dissenters” and demonizes them, publicly and loudly, as evil.
<i> “According to Hannah Arendt, the foremost scholar of totalitarianism, a totalitarian society is one in which an ideology seeks to displace all prior traditions and institutions, with the goal of bringing all aspects of society under control of that ideology. A totalitarian state is one that aspires to nothing less than defining and controlling reality. Truth is whatever the rulers decide it is.” </i> 
Dreher acknowledges that it is unlikely that America will look like the Communist Soviet with their extreme torture and gulags, but we must be aware of soft-totalitarianism creeping into our country. Propaganda is a trademark of totalitarianism. Unlike the mainly political power of dictatorships, totalitarian governments create an entire ideology they require you to accept and operate by. They want to manipulate the way you think, behave, feel, and believe. To resist these totalitarian-esque movements we must not live by their lies. Both publicly and privately. <i> “Sometimes silence is an act of resistance. Not just standing up for the truth by communicating loudly—keeping silent when you aren’t expected to be silent. That, too, is telling the truth.”</i>
Therapeutic Moralism is an important term to be familiar with and an ideology we have to be sensitive to. Christians are equally susceptible to this kind of thinking as secularists. It is the idea that morality is based on feelings and that God just wants us to be nice and happy. <i> "In therapeutic culture, which has everywhere triumphed, the great sin is to stand in the way of the freedom of others to find happiness as they wish." </i> How could anyone stand in the way of someone’s happiness? Well, if morality is defined according to an individual’s feelings and there is no external authority for what is right and wrong, how would anyone agree? 
Even more seriously, for Christians, this idea of “freedom” and happiness is a direct threat to our faith. It can be seen in the prosperity gospel touted by people like Joel Osteen, Rachel Hollis and others who preach self-promotion, love of self, follow your dreams, you deserve success, wealth, health and happiness, and you are in control of whatever life you want ideology. If our lives are centered on self, they are not centered on God. God did not create us so that we could spend our lives seeking personal fulfillment and success according to the world’s standards. No, we are set apart and created to glorify God, not ourselves. And if we are seeking the world’s freedom, comfort, and happiness, we will not stand for truth. The Bible does not teach that the Christian life will be free from suffering. In fact, it guarantees it. But a government that wants to control its people will disguise their ideology with a mask of freedom and happiness- something we all, in our fallen nature, love to align with; all this to the devil’s pleasure. As Christians, are we willing to suffer for our faith? Are we willing to experience public discomfort and ostracization for the sake of truth? Because with therapeutic morality, that is what is at stake.  
Another characteristic evident in a people susceptible to totalitarian manipulation, is isolation: <i> “...we grow ever lonelier and more isolated. It is no coincidence that millennials and members of Generation Z register much higher rates of loneliness than older Americans, as well as significantly greater support for socialism. It’s as if they aspire to a politics that can replace the community they wish they had... A polity filled with alienated individuals who share little sense of community and purpose are prime targets for totalitarian ideologies and leaders who promise solidarity and meaning.” </i> I am not surprised by this. As Christians, we know that one of the greatest tools of the devil is isolation. If we are separated from a support system who encourages us in truth and helps us sort out his lies, we can easily be swayed to believe really anything.  

I'm running out of space to cover it all. So moving on. 
My main criticisms of this book are lack of Scriptural content and no emphasis on God’s sovereignty. After a quick google search, I’m still not sure what kind of faith Rod Dreher has and what his views on the Bible are. Since he made a few references to Paul’s teachings on suffering and this book was promoted on The Gospel Coalition site, it would seem as though he believes what the Bible teaches, however, he misses a lot of opportunities to share Scripture and Jesus’ own suffering. He almost gave a bigger spotlight to Christians who died for their faith (people he called Saints) than to Jesus himself.  
Additionally, when speaking of the future and future suffering and speculating about what could potentially befall our country, I was disappointed that he spent very minimal space bestowing hope in the sovereignty of our Lord who is the Author and Sustainer of all things. Who decides which kingdoms rise and fall. Who has already defeated sin and death. Whose plans are above all ours. Yes, we need practical application and his suggested action steps could be valuable in preparing to suffer for our faith, but more powerful than any other emotion is hope. And what hope is there but the hope that lies in the only One who literally ordains every single thing down to the roll of dice. It seems a bit irresponsible to write an entire book on the danger and destruction that looms without emphasizing God’s sovereignty over it.  
I find these quotes profoundly relevant: 
 <i> All the lies, and lies about lies, that formed the communist order were built on the basis of this foundational lie: the communist state is the sole source of truth. Orwell expressed this truth in Nineteen Eighty-Four: “The Party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command.” </i> 
<i> “[God] does not want admirers; he wants followers. As Jesus Christ, the second person of the Holy Trinity, God suffered with humanity to redeem humanity. He calls us to share in his passion, for our sake and the sake of the world. He promises us nothing but the cross. Not happiness but the joy of blessedness. Not material wealth but richness of spirit. Not sexual freedom as erotic abandon but sexual freedom within loving, mutually sacrificial commitment. Not power but love; not self-sovereignty but obedience.” </i> 

If nothing else, this book is a reminder that we CAN know Truth, and it's not just whatever is loudest. Seek Truth, and be willing to suffer for Him. Earthly kingdoms come and go, the earth will pass away, but His Word is eternal and so are our souls.
Other Quotes: 
Social justice warriors ranks are full of middle-class, secular, educated young people wracked by guilt and anxiety over their own privilege, alienated from their own traditions, and desperate to identify with something, or someone, to give them a sense of wholeness and purpose. For them, the ideology of social justice—as defined not by church teaching but by critical theorists in the academy—functions as a pseudo-religion.... They too believe that justice depends on group identity, and that achieving justice means taking power away from the exploiters and handing it to the exploited. 

Communism attempted to break apart the family by maintaining a monopoly on education and teaching young people to be dependent on the state. It also sought to lure the young away from the church by convincing them that the state would be the guarantors of their sexual freedom.  

Perhaps no country on earth has been more future-oriented than the United States of America. We are suckers for the Myth of Progress... but this does not mean that all changes improve upon the past inevitably. It also doesn’t mean that “progress,” divorced from God is progress at all. In fact, progress can become very dark in a secular context, without a biblical understanding of human fallibility and without the God of the Bible as the author of history and the judge of the earth. 
Christians today must understand that, fundamentally, they aren’t resisting a different politics but rather what is effectively a rival religion. This is how it was for young Russians of the late nineteenth century, who embraced Marxism with the fervor of religious converts. It gave its devotees a narrative that helped them understand why things are the way they are, and what they, as Marxists, should do to bring about a more just world. It was an optimistic philosophy, one that promised relief and bounty for all the peoples of the world. 
Consumerism is how we are learning to love Big Brother... He is not exactly who we expected him to be... He’s a salesman, he’s a broker, he’s a gatherer of raw materials, and a manufacturer of desires. He is monitoring virtually every move you make to determine how to sell you more things.. learning how to direct your behavior..[He] is laying the foundation for soft totalitarianism, both in terms of creating and implementing the technology for political and social control and by grooming the population to accept it as normal. 

Who controls the past, controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.- The Party Slogan, 1984

If true, these are alarming: 

[Pro tip: read the e-book to easily look up terms and access footnotes]
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Rod Dreher's previous book, "The Benedict Option," suffered from shying away from some of the implications of what he explores on his daily (or more-than-daily) blog at The American Conservative. What, some readers were left asking, is the point of building a "Benedict Option"-style community, shoring up the foundations of traditional morality through intentional living, if the regnant regime found such communities a threat? 
"Live Not By Lies" addresses this question squarely, attempting to draw a parallel between the tensions in pre-Soviet Russia and the murmurings of "Color Revolution"-style rhetoric in the United States. The book is best when it introduces readers to the brave heroes of Eastern European resistance to communism, even if some of the parallels seem hastily constructed at best. His profiles of people like the Bendas will doubtless serve as an inspiration to many. "Live Not By Lies" may not quite deliver on its promise to be a "manual for dissidents," but it does compassionately portray Christians who held onto their faith in the face of persecution. Those lessons will be helpful for those who fear for their ability to build communities of the type Dreher outlined in "The Benedict Option."
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Live not by lies by Rod Dreher is a book that Every Christian American needs to read. This book has opened my eyes to what is going on in America. It’s has given me tools to not be deceived anymore. 
The books description states: 
In Live Not By Lies, Dreher amplifies the alarm sounded by the brave men and women who fought totalitarianism. He explains how the totalitarianism facing us today is based less on overt violence and more on psychological manipulation. He tells the stories of modern-day dissidents--clergy, laity, martyrs, and confessors from the Soviet Union and the captive nations of Europe--who offer practical advice for how to identify and resist totalitarianism in our time. Following the model offered by a prophetic World War II-era pastor who prepared believers in his Eastern European to endure the coming of communism, Live Not By Lies teaches American Christians a method for resistance:
  •  SEE: Acknowledge the reality of the situation.
  •  JUDGE: Assess reality in the light of what we as Christians know to be true.
  •  ACT: Take action to protect truth.
I definitely recommend this book!
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I encourage all Christians to read this book to understand what is going on in today's American culture.  Dreher discusses the history of totalitarianism, especially in the Soviet bloc.  He interviews a number of dissidents, especially Christians, who lived in those countries and witnessed those regimes.  It was very sobering for me to read about how they lived and the courage they needed to live out their faith.  
Dreher states that America is now facing a soft-totalitarianism where the media, academia, corporate America and other institutions are compelling people to toe their line.  I witnessed this just this week in our little South Carolina town where the college baseball coach may be fired from his job just because he dared to indirectly question the BLM movement in a private comment on a Facebook post.  As Dreher states, Progressivism is religion and if you don't toe their line you may face huge consequences.  
Read this book and be prepared.
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Historians are going to have a wealth of events to study from 2020.  Perhaps more than the year 1968. No doubt one thing they will analyze will be the unabashed rise of totalitarianism in the West, which is the topic of Rod Dreher’s new book Live Not By Lies. Dreher analyzes the rise of what he calls “soft totalitarianism” in the US by talking to people who lived through totalitarianism in the Soviet Bloc. As he did in his book The Benedict Option, Dreher focuses on how Christians can preserve their faith during these troubling times.   

If you’re wondering what totalitarianism is—

According to Hannah Arendt, the foremost scholar of totalitarianism, a totalitarian society is one in which an ideology seeks to displace all prior traditions and institutions, with the goal of bringing all aspects of society under control of that ideology. A totalitarian state is one that aspires to nothing less than defining and controlling reality. Truth is whatever the rulers decide it is. As Arendt has written, wherever totalitarianism has ruled, “[I]t has begun to destroy the essence of man.”

I grew up in the 1980s during the Cold War. It seems bizarre to me to even need a discussion on the dangers of totalitarianism; yet, here we are. From cancel culture having people fired for differing opinions on Twitter to mobs screaming at passive diners to raise their fists in solidarity at restaurants, totalitarianism is being accepted. Let’s be honest. It’s even being celebrated by some. I realize that not everyone will agree with that statement. Many will not agree with Dreher’s conclusions in Live Not By Lies, but it’s very difficult to ignore the facts. 

Dreher interviews Christians who lived through brutal totalitarianism in the Soviet Bloc, and here’s what he found:

What makes the emerging situation in the West similar to what they fled? After all, every society has rules and taboos and mechanisms to enforce them. What unnerves those who lived under Soviet communism is this similarity: Elites and elite institutions are abandoning old-fashioned liberalism, based in defending the rights of the individual, and replacing it with a progressive creed that regards justice in terms of groups. It encourages people to identify with groups—ethnic, sexual, and otherwise—and to think of Good and Evil as a matter of power dynamics among the groups. A utopian vision drives these progressives, one that compels them to seek to rewrite history and reinvent language to reflect their ideals of social justice.

These Christians survived absolutely brutal persecution. Dreher describes horrific torture methods used by the Soviets. Many of the people he interviews or their family members spent decades in prisons or gulags. As Dreher examines how they maintained their faith, it’s obvious that there are differences in the totalitarianism we face. In some ways, what we face is even scarier. Dreher writes:

To be sure, whatever this is, it is not a carbon copy of life in the Soviet Bloc nations, with their secret police, their gulags, their strict censorship, and their material deprivation. That is precisely the problem, these people warn. The fact that relative to Soviet Bloc conditions, life in the West remains so free and so prosperous is what blinds Americans to the mounting threat to our liberty. That, and the way those who take away freedom couch it in the language of liberating victims from oppression.

Live Not By Lies starts with a brief history of the rise of totalitarianism in Russia. He looks at the sources and the parallels with what is happening in the US today. Dreher analyzes what he considers the two factors driving “soft totalitarianism” today: the social justice movement and surveillance technology, which has become a huge part of our consumerist culture.

The second part of the book examines forms, methods, and sources of resistance. Dreher attempts to answer the following questions by examining exactly what the Christians in the Soviet Bloc did in order to survive:

Why is religion and the hope it gives at the core of effective resistance? What does the willingness to suffer have to do with living in truth? Why is the family the most important cell of opposition?... How did they get through it?... Why are they so anxious about the West’s future?

Obviously, this is a contentious topic. Live Not By Lies discusses some difficult topics. Dreher has already been attacked and criticized. He doesn’t seem to accept the media-driven narrative of the death of George Floyd and the social justice movement. How exactly does he describe the soft totalitarianism affecting the US? Dreher writes:

Today’s totalitarianism demands allegiance to a set of progressive beliefs, many of which are incompatible with logic—and certainly with Christianity. Compliance is forced less by the state than by elites who form public opinion, and by private corporations that, thanks to technology, control our lives far more than we would like to admit...

Today’s left-wing totalitarianism once again appeals to an internal hunger, specifically the hunger for a just society, one that vindicates and liberates the historical victims of oppression. It masquerades as kindness, demonizing dissenters and disfavored demographic groups to protect the feelings of “victims” to bring about “social justice...”

This is what the survivors of communism are saying to us: liberalism’s admirable care for the weak and marginalized is fast turning into a monstrous ideology that, if it is not stopped, will transform liberal democracy into a softer, therapeutic form of totalitarianism.

For Christians, therein lies the rub—“liberalism’s admirable care for the weak and marginalized.” Aren’t Christians supposed to care for the weak and marginalized? The answer is yes. Christians should and do care for the weak and marginalized. The problem is ideology in these movements is king, and the ideology is ultimately atheistic and therapeutic. Christianity is allowed as long as it bends to the ideology, not the other way around. 

These movements are trying to use totalitarianism to create a utopia based on their ideology. As Mark Sayers says in one of my favorite quotes, “They want to create the kingdom of heaven, but without the King.” That is their end goal. Ask yourself, what is the end goal of Christianity? What happens when the goals of the ideology clash with Christianity?

Dreher writes:

In therapeutic culture, which has everywhere triumphed, the great sin is to stand in the way of the freedom of others to find happiness as they wish. This goes hand in hand with the sexual revolution, which, along with ethnic and gender identity politics, replaced the failed economic class struggle as the utopian focus of the post-1960s radical left.

It all goes back to the original sin: the individual wants to be a god. The individual wants to create his or her own brand of heaven where the only sin is anything causing unhappiness. In that kind of culture, even using the pronouns “his or her” is controversial because it could offend someone. Dreher writes:

Christian resistance on a large scale to the anti-culture has been fruitless, and is likely to be for the foreseeable future. Why? Because the spirit of the therapeutic has conquered the churches as well—even those populated by Christians who identify as conservative. Relatively few contemporary Christians are prepared to suffer for the faith, because the therapeutic society that has formed them denies the purpose of suffering in the first place, and the idea of bearing pain for the sake of truth seems ridiculous.

Honestly, the scariest part of all this is we unsuspectingly welcome totalitarianism. We live in a far more technologically advanced society than the 1980s Soviet Bloc. The opportunities and ability to surveil private life are unbelievable. As Dreher says, “There’s nowhere left to hide.” It’s almost cliche to point out anymore. We are far more similar to the society in Huxley’s Brave New World, than we are Orwell’s 1984. Why? Because we happily invite our oppressors into every aspect of our lives, as long as we’re kept happy with endless entertainment and shiny consumer goods. We don’t want to offend anyone, and we don’t want to suffer. Dreher even recounts how one Soviet Bloc survivor he talked to is horrified at the use of smartphones and Amazon Echo in US homes. They lived the nightmare described in 1984.

The subtitle to Live Not By Lies is “A Manual For Christian Dissidents.” The second part of the book specifically gives the strategies the Christians in the Soviet Bloc used to maintain their faith and survive. If you haven’t guessed it, the title of the book has a lot to do with it. The title comes from a quote by Solzhenitsyn, a Christian who survived the gulags. And yes, their Christian faith was crucial to their survival. In fact, much of what our society wants Christians to let go of turns out to be crucial for surviving totalitarianism. Let’s not fool ourselves. There will be suffering, but we must persevere.

This is a difficult topic. It’s hard to hear these comparisons and read these stories. It’s difficult to step outside the ideologies and narratives that seem to want to help people and really see what the end goal is. I think the strategies presented in the second part of the book will be essential in the coming years. Live Not By Lies is not a happy book, but it’s a necessary book. I recommend you read it and ask yourself the hard questions.
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* Dreher, Rod. Live Not by Lies. New York City, NY: Sentinel, 2020. $27.00

A popular subject within Christian history has been the study of how Christians have flourished in an environment that, from the outside, seems to strangle the church.

I was intrigued to learn of a new publication by Rod Dreher; as a Christian navigating political views, I wanted to see the next book by the same writer of The Benedict Option. Dreher’s introduction tells the story of when he was contacted by an individual whose mother had firsthand experience under a totalitarian regime. What she saw happening in America reminded her of her years as a political prisoner. This conversation led to many others like it with others who lived within oppressive communist countries. They all communicated the same thing: America is drifting towards totalitarianism.

Dreher cites this drift as a move from traditional liberalism to our current progressive liberalism. The trajectory is not a militaristic inforced “hard” totalitarianism, but what he calls a “soft totalitarianism,” something sneakier than we realize. The author refrences Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago and the more relevant “Live Not By Lies.” The chapters that follow comprise various interviews and testaments by those who lived under totalitarianism. He seeks to make the case that “despite its superficial permissiveness, liberal democracy is degenerating into something resembling the totalitarianism over which it triumphed in the Cold War” (Loc 148). In part one, Dreher looks at the sources, major factors, and primary intellectuals. Throughout part two he looks closer at resistance to “soft totalitarianism.”

Dreher’s beginning chapters set the stage. With stories, he proposes the “task of the Christian dissident today is to personally commit herself to live not by lies” (Loc 388). Referencing a 1951 study of the German and Soviet Union shifts and political ideologies, Dreher marks similarities of Western culture in loneliness, civic trust, faith in institutions and hierarchical structures, believing the propaganda, pushing beyond current cultural bounds, preference for loyalty (in a book focused on woke progressivism, here he mentions President Trump’s statements before quickly turning back to liberals), and a passionate desire for ideology.

Chapter 3 describes the religious nature of progressivism. A piece of this is the idea that the present age is necessarily better than the past, our culture is further in the progress of the ideal society; this is the “Myth of Progress.” The author notes several tangible examples of true progress. Without the Judeo-Christian linear view of history, these would not be advancements. The soft totalitarianism of our day seeks to silence dissenters, particularly using public ridicule as an opponent of the current social progress. Dreher looks at some of the tenants of “social justice warriors” before approaching social justice from a Christian perspective. Chapter 4 concludes the first section of Live Not by Lies as it approaches business, technology, and their use to further the agenda of the woke Left and no longer stays quiet on social issues. Consumers seeking convenience have, without consideration or concern, widely accepted tools of surveillance into our daily lives.

As mentioned before, part two addresses how Christians are to dissent, “live not by lies,” and resist soft totalitarianism. Chapter five appeals to the reader to value truth; we must separate ourselves from the “crowd”, reject doublethink (from 1984) and fight for free speech among other appeals. Chapter six calls for remembering history to pass truth along to the next generation. Dreher writes, “we not only have to remember totalitarianism to build a resistance to it; we have to remember how to remember, period.” (Loc 1598). Family and traditional values are the subjects of chapter seven. The author argues the family can play a critical role in providing both a training ground for Christians, but also a source of sustained encouragement. Chapter eight broadens to look at how religion- Christianity in particular- has the philosophical and theological foundations on which resistance to totalitarianism can stand firm. Chapter nine walks the reader through examples of how to be in solidarity with others who resist. Dreher offers small groups and communities (these do not have to be limited to Christian groups) as the primary examples. Chapter ten concludes part two with a survey of stories describing the benefit of suffering.

Dreher concludes each of the chapters in part two with a section called “See, Judge, Act”, harkening back to the story of Father Kolaković. These sections address actions Christians can take at this point in time. Some are “coming to Jesus” moments in their own right. For example, Dreher argues a “time of painful testing, even persecution, is coming. Lukewarm or shallow Christians will not come through with their faith intact” (Loc 2230). These calls to action encourage a response in manageable ways that are not themselves overwhelming.

There are many parallels and stories the modern reader (especially the modern Christian who may live in a bubble of work and college football) needs to pay attention to. Those who dissent will be the object of criticism and disdain, even if the opinion isn’t necessarily Biblical but is still out of what is culturally acceptable. Many core Biblical concepts and principles are being challenged.

Christians must be engaged. I have long not been, at least not in a recommendable way. I don’t follow Dreher’s posts and often am not sure how to articulate opposition to views I disagree with. I must read, listen, and discuss policies and views that concern the lives of individuals, my neighbor. Each Christian must love our neighbor and be a light unto this world. This will require suffering; losing our idealized views of our political party politics. Neither major party aligns perfectly with Biblical Christianity, and we are afraid to lose this sense of comfort. Christians must do this to bear witness to the Lordship of Christ.

Three truths must be stated. (1) Christians must wake up from the slumber of comfort and financial prosperity and be active. (2) Christians have faced many similar issues throughout the centuries and we need to learn from them how to engage while cultural shifts are occurring. (3). Christians have faced far more ferocious persecution before and we need to learn how to be faithful in the face of such circumstances.

A potential reader need not agree with all the strategies Dreher offers. He writes specifically to challenge soft totalitarianism because he sees it as the biggest threat. Some may not take serious these calls from someone who writes for “The American Conservative.” In the current state of affairs, it would be nice to hear a Christian political voice decry sins of all political sides. Nevertheless, the Christian (or any reader) who wants to engage in political thinking should read Live Not by Lies. Dreher offers stories of encouragement and options for the Christian living in a largely post-Christian world.

* I received a complimentary digital copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes. My comments are independent and my own. Quotations could change in finished book.
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Live Not By Lies will disturb you. At the same time, it will also be a source of hope and encouragement. This book is a wake-up call, a speed bump, a check engine light of sorts to those of us in the West who have been sleep walking through life. Sure, we’re aware of the hardships and persecution Christians have faced under totalitarian regimes. We’ve empathized and been respectful, maybe even made a donation to a relief cause. And then we’ve gone back to sleep telling ourselves, “That could never happen here, and even if it began to, Jesus would come to rescue us before things got really bad.” Church history doesn’t support this view of the Christian life. But we don’t know church history, at least not like we should. We find ourselves caving into the clarion call to embrace a lifestyle of personal peace and affluence as Francis Shaffer called it back in the 80’s. Or, a lifestyle of Hot Tub Religion, as Packer tagged it in the 90’s. Our response to pursuing our best life now has been gradual and incremental. We’ve drifted slowly to a place where many will willingly give up and trade their freedom for personal safety. Live Not By Lives will shake you out of your slumber and complacency. It did me.  

In part one of this timely book, author Rod Deher makes the case that a form of totalitarianism, soft as opposed to hard, is surfacing and gathering momentum here in the west. The camel’s nose is already in our tent through social media, our on-line purchasing habits, and all the smart devices that make life so much easier. We willingly expose our private lives on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. We’ve become dependent on the affirmation these platforms provide. “Cookies,” i.e. surveillance capitalism through Google, continuously assist us with our purchasing decisions. They anticipate what we are likely to buy, ad after ad after ad. Alexa and Siri, our digital assistants, are listening, always ready to “help.” Our continuous use of these tools is having a conditioning affect, leading us to surrender privacy and political liberties in exchange for the comfort we desire. We’re willingly turning over the control of our lives to the “experts” who know better than we do what we need and what we should want. Our long-held opinions and ethical standards have been weakened by on-line social justice warriors as they continuously chisel away.   

There is hope. Part two of  Live Not By Lies provides us with a resistance strategy. It’s also very personal. We’re not given trite Scripture verses that fit nicely on a coffee mug. Instead, we’re presented with stories of courageous, humble Christian dissidents  of several faith traditions who have lived under oppressive conditions. They’ve  walked the path it appears were just embarking on. Coming from mainly from Eastern European countries, they have lived the faith they confess. 

What struck me about their stories is how continuously they looked beyond themselves to living a costly, self-sacrificial lifestyle. For them, it was a daily picking up of their crosses and following Jesus.  Reading their stories made me aware of how little suffering we in the West have gone through, how insulated we have been. 

They stressed a lifestyle of:
•	Confessing and following Christ as opposed to simply admiring him
•	Speaking and living the truth
•	Cultivating a godly character
•	Gathering in small groups for encouragement and communicating resistance tactics
•	Passing on family and cultural memories
•	Being willing to suffer

The conclusion of Deher’s book leads us to ask ourselves a question reminiscent of the title of Francis Shaffer’s 1976 book, How Should we Then Live? How should we live? The title answers the question- Live Not By Lies! We can’t afford to live in denial of what’s happening. Our children need us to face the truth, speak the truth, and prepare them for the coming on-slough of manipulation and control. 

This book will provide the reader with the inspiration and strategies required to do just that. 

I highly recommend it. 

~ Curt Bumcrot, MRE
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When I first heard that Dreher's new book was about resisting soft totalitarianism I thought the idea was a little over the top, but the events of this spring and summer changed my mind and I eagerly preordered the book. I was even more excited when I was given a pre-pub ebook to read and review (and of course I was not required to provide a positive review).

The premise of the book is that we in the west can learn much from those who survived totalitarianism in the east that may help us survive and even thrive as our culture grows increasingly hostile not only to religious liberty but to liberty in general. 

Dreher is careful to distinguish between the hard totalitarianism of the 20th century and the growing soft totalitarianism of the present. Even if you don't think soft totalitarianism exists, the stories of those who survived the horrors of totalitarianism are reason enough to read the book. But if you read it, I suspect that before you are more than a third of the way through the book you'll be convinced Dreher is right. 

This is the third of Dreher's books that I have thoroughly enjoyed and highly recommend, not because I agree with everything he says, but because his books never leave me unchanged.

4.5 stars
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A timely and important book from a voice that needs to be heard.  Dreher is not infallible, but there is much to learn from the experiences recounted in this book.
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